Kierkegaard on Faith and Immediacy: Reading The Concept of Anxiety V


A one sentence comment at the beginning of the Introduction defines it as concerned with deliberation on a psychological matter that becomes a matter of (theological) dogmatics. That is presumably the transition from the psychology of anxiety to the dogmatics of hereditary sin. Kierkegaard (writing under the pseudonym of Vigilius Haufniensis) begins the main body of the Introduction with reference to the nature of science, presumably the science of psychology is what is at issue. Scientific issue have a limited and defined place within science as a whole. There are two things this serves. The first is the pious and melancholic love of the scientist for science. It is what restrains the scientist from lawlessness and losing sight of the mainland. The second purpose served is to prevent the deliberation from going beyond its proper limits. This prevents going too far in scope and bringing things that differ too much into agreement, and going beyond the scope of existing knowledge. This resembles some of Kant’s comments on the limits of knowledge, and is probably directed against Hegel for going too far in claiming to have a complete system. However, there is also some resemblance with Hegel’s criticisms of subjectivism, of putting an isolated individual point of view at the centre.

The following paragraph confirms that Kierkegaard’s main target is Hegel, though we should keep in mind the qualifications above. In particular, he attacks Hegel for ending the Science of Logic with a section on Actuality. Kierkegaard argues that logic and actuality are both served poorly by such a move as they do not belong together. We cannot understand the contingency of Actuality through the nature of logical judgements; logic cannot appropriate Actuality, it can only presuppose it.

The argument moves from Hegel (though not for long) to the nature of faith. Kierkegaard suggests that a fault is widespread in thought about faith and religion, even amongst orthodox believers, which parallel’s Hegel’s error in trying to assimilate Actuality into Logic.That is where theological dogmatics refers to faith as immediate. Kierkegaard does not directly suggest which dogmatics is at fault, he is presumably attacking Danish theologians of the time, which still leaves the question how much of a place this error as in the history of theology, and whether it affects the great theologians. Kierkegaard never does much to locate his writing within theological tradition. His point here is that faith itself rests on historical presupposition. If we ignore that faith loses, since we overlook its real nature, and dogmatics loses since it does not deal with the real beginning of faith. The failure to grasp this is the first error for Kierkegaard, so it looks like a core idea for him. He refers to immediacy as a legitimate topic for logic, so the problem is not the idea of immediacy, but of placing faith there, just like Hegel apparently puts actuality there. The idea of a historical presupposition might suggest that Kierkegaard is thinking of a philosophy of history as the appropriate reference for faith rather than categories of logic. That might just be a way back to Hegel, who could be said to have subsumed everything into philosophy of history in The Phenomenology of Spirit. Probably the right approach to Kierkegaard here is to think of him as putting history at the centre, as Hegel at least sometimes appears to, but approaching history from a different direction. Hegel is trying to unify phenomenology with logic, where Kierkegaard puts psychology, subjectivity, the single individual, and the paradox at the centre of of an approach to history, Humanity is historically located, but in the impossibility of  unity of individuals and of different generations. There is no unifying spirit unfolding history, but more the historically located individual encountering the difficulties of grasping time and history.

In logic immediacy can be properly regarded as what is immediately annulled, presumably on the Hegelian model according to which the there is no stable ‘this’ since any naming and discussing of ‘this’ loses the moment of ‘this’ at the centre of perception. Faith cannot be annulled in that way, but we may get into thinking that faith can annulled if we think of it as immediate. By implication, Kierkegaard is claiming that faith is always more than an immediate moment of encounter with God. Other parts of Kierkegaard suggests that he puts the possibility of a relation between contingency and the absolute, at the centre, including the difficulty of reconciling the contingent temporal self with the absolute self outside time. Faith is where we are dealing with that in someway rather than the immediate experience of the absolute, which leaves the experiencing subject without any way of harmonising itself with the absolute.

(We are in the middle of the long and important third paragraph of the Introduction. More on that paragraph in the next post).


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